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The Effect of Coronavirus on Criminal Cases in Texas (15 Observations)

By Benson Varghese

Last Updated: September 11th, 2020
Published on: August 12th, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly had an effect on criminal cases in Texas. If you’ve wondered what types of cases are on the rise, whether criminal cases are being resolved, or if individuals charged with offenses are retaining attorneys, this article is for you. Considering that the Supreme Court of Texas has issued its  Twenty-Second Emergency Order, it’s a given that COVID-19 has had an impact on criminal courts, but here’s a look at just how much. In this article, we’ll examine Texas as a whole and then drill down for a closer look at Tarrant County.

Here are the top 15 things we learned about coronavirus and criminal cases by examining the raw data from March through June available through the Office of Court Administration. 

1. Fewer Felony Cases Filed in Texas

In 2019, an average of 24,758 felony cases were filed each month across the state of Texas. The First Emergency Order was signed in mid-March, and since then, felony case filings declined as follows:

  • March – 21,614
  • April – 16,774
  • May – 20,536
  • June – 21,545

 

 

2. Felony Case Filings Increased in Tarrant County, Despite Statewide Drop

While felony case filings are down across the state, the number of new felony cases filed each month in Tarrant County increased dramatically in April before falling to mostly normal levels. In 2019 in Tarrant County, the average number of new felony cases filed each month was 2,012.

From March through June of this year, the filings of new felony cases were:

  • 1,488 – March
  • 3,236 – April
  • 1,959 – May
  • 1,888 – June

The average number of felony cases filed in Tarrant County since March is 2,143. If we exclude March, because April was the first full-month of limited court activity, there were 2,361 cases felony cases filed in Tarrant County during the pandemic or a 17% increase in felony case filings. During the same period, overall felony case filings in Texas dropped 21%.

 

felony case filings in Tarrant County

3. Fewer Felony Cases are Being Resolved in Texas

In 2019, prosecutors across Texas resolved about 96 felony cases for every 100 felony cases filed. During the pandemic –  which was declared a disaster in Texas on March 13 – that number dropped to:

  • March – 81 cases for every 100 filed
  • April – 53 cases for every 100 filed
  • May – 43 cases for every 100 filed
  • June – 58 cases for every 100 filed

 

4. Tarrant County Lags Behind State in Felony Case Resolutions

Case resolutions in Tarrant County during the pandemic are below the statewide average. In 2019, the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office resolved about 89 felony cases for every 100 felony cases that were filed.

During the pandemic, that average dropped to:

  • March – 97 cases for every 100 filed (compared to the state average of 81 cases for every 100 filed)
  • April – 26 cases for every 100 filed (compared to the state average of 53 cases for every 100 filed)
  • May – 38 cases for every 100 filed (compared to the state average of 43)
  • June – 50 cases for every 100 filed (compared to the state average of 58)

 

5. Criminal Cases Backlogged Under Sharen Wilson’s Administration Despite Increase in Number of Prosecutors

The Office of Court Administration’s clearance rate measures how effectively prosecutors are resolving cases. A clearance rate of 100 percent indicates that the court disposed of the same number of cases during the year as were added to the docket during the year. A clearance rate of less than 100 percent results in an increased backlog. The clearance rate for Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson’s current administration has been lower than the previous administration, despite the Wilson administration having a greater number of prosecutors and a ballooning budget.

sharen wilson administration waste

Case resolutions have dropped while the number of criminal prosecutors at the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office has increased by 32%.

growth in Tarrant County DA

Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson’s budget has increased 15% since 2015, while her salary increased by 24%.

Sharen Wilson increasing budget

6. Murder Cases on the Rise in Tarrant County

In 2019, on average, there were less than two capital murder cases filed in Tarrant County each month. In June 2020 alone, 10 new cases were filed.

capital murder tarrant county

In 2019, the average number of murder cases filed each month in Tarrant County was five. The statistics for March through June 2020 are as follows:

  • March – 11
  • April – 15
  • May – 10
  • June – 11

As new murder cases continue to be filed, pending murder cases remain unresolved. Between January 2019 and June 2020, the number of murder cases pending in Tarrant County almost doubled.

murder cases on the rise

7. Aggravated Assault Cases on the Rise in Tarrant County

In 2019, the average number of aggravated assault and attempted murder cases filed each month in Tarrant County was 150. In April of 2020 alone, there were 427 new filings.

Tarrant County Pending Cases

8.  Adult Sexual Assaults on Rise in Tarrant County

In 2019, there were nine adult sexual assaults filed on average each month in Tarrant County. In April 2020 alone, there were 21 adult sexual assaults filed.

pending sexual assaults

9. Unresolved Child Sexual Assault Cases Rising in Tarrant County

In 2019, an average of 41 child sexual assaults were filed in Tarrant County each month. While that number has remained steady during the pandemic, the number of unresolved child sexual assault cases has increased. For example, in January 2019, there were 396 pending cases. As of June 2020, that number ballooned to 647.

Child Sexual Assaults

10. Felony Family Violence Cases on the Rise in Tarrant County, Misdemeanor Domestic Violence Dipped

In 2019, there was an average of 91 felony family violence cases filed each month in Tarrant County. To compare in 2020, there were 222 felony family violence cases filed in April, 148 in May and 135 in June. The number of pending family violence cases rose from 519 to 950 from January 2019 to June 2020 despite the Tarrant County District Attorney’s creation of a Felony Family Violence Unit and “Not in My County” political campaign. For those who believe justice delayed is justice denied, this massive increase in pending family violence cases contradicts Sharen Wilson’s claimed efforts to reduce domestic violence in Tarrant County.

felony family violence cases in Tarrant

The pending misdemeanor family violence cases have seen a moderate increase since January 2019. New misdemeanor family violence cases are lower than the average in 2019. The monthly average of new misdemeanor domestic violence cases in 2019 was 223. New misdemeanor domestic violence cases dropped in April, May, and June – although this is most likely because the State of Disaster enhancement under Penal Code 12.50 allows Class A misdemeanor assaults to be filed as state jail felonies if they occur during a disaster declaration.

 

11. Moderate Decrease in Misdemeanor DWIs in Tarrant County

DWIs are down, but not as much as you’d expect with lockdowns, bar closures, and occupancy limits at establishments that are open. In 2019, there was an average of 438 misdemeanor DWIs filed in Tarrant County each month.

The number of new misdemeanor DWI filed during the first four months of the pandemic are as follows:

  • March – 529
  • April – 343
  • May – 288
  • June  -339

On average,  375 new misdemeanor cases were filed each month during the pandemic.

 

dwi case filings

12. Misdemeanor Thefts Down in Tarrant County

In 2019, an average of 239 new misdemeanor thefts cases were filed each month in Tarrant County. During the pandemic, which struck in mid-March, the number of filings were:

  • March – 282
  • April – 129
  • May – 173
  • June – 196


theft filings in Tarrant County

13. Misdemeanor Marijuana Filings Declined in Tarrant County

On average, 330 new misdemeanor marijuana cases were filed each month in 2019 in Tarrant County. During the pandemic, the filings were as follows:

  • March – 263
  • April – 217
  • May – 177
  • June – 228

marijuana case filings

14. Other Misdemeanor Drug Filings Down, Dismissals Up in Tarrant County

In 2019, an average of 98 new misdemeanor drug cases were filed each month in Tarrant County. During the pandemic, the filings were:

  • March – 97
  • April – 70
  • May – 71
  • June – 49

Meanwhile, dismissals of drugs cases have sky-rocketed:

drug cases filings in Tarrant County

15. Fewer People Have Attorneys (Retained or Appointed) in Tarrant County

The number of people hiring attorneys and the number of people receiving court-appointed attorneys has fallen during the pandemic while cases filings have been on the rise. For example, in April more than 3,200 felony cases were filed in Tarrant County. Less than 150 of those hired attorneys.

filed cases without attorneys

Coronavirus and Criminal Cases: Why These Statistics Matter

Justice delayed is justice denied. Both victims and citizens accused suffer when cases languish without resolutions. Taxpayers bear the burden of the lack of case resolutions – funding district attorneys offices, paying to house or supervise citizens accused of committing crimes, and when cases aren’t resolved as they should be ultimately the cost of jury trials. For those that need rehabilitation and punishment, delaying programs, sanctions, and sentences reduces the efficacy of such measures. When cases are not resolved, there is little deterrent value to the efforts of even the best prosecutors.